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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Part One, Section Four

Part One, Section Three

Part Two, Section One

Summary

Antoinette wakes from a six-week long fever and finds herself in Spanish Town, under Aunt Cora's care. Antoinette's brother, Pierre, has died from the fire, and her mother is living in the country. When Antoinette visits her mother with Christophine, Antoinette can barely recognize her. When Antoinette approaches her mother, Annette violently thrusts her away.

Antoinette enrolls in a convent school in Spanish Town. On the way to school her first day, two adolescent bullies follow and taunt her, saying she as is crazy as her mother, and threatening to hurt her. Suddenly, from across the street, a tall boy runs to protect Antoinette—a boy whom she recognizes as Sandi, her half-brother and one of her father's illegitimate children. Sandi sends Antoinette's tormentors running. When Antoinette enters the school, she collapses in tears. Kindly nuns rush to comfort her, placing her in the custody of a fellow student, the beautiful Louise de Plana.

Antoinette spends her time at the convent cross-stitching and learning about female saints from Mother St. Justine. Lessons inculcate the ideals of cleanliness and virtuous womanhood, and Mother St. Justine frequently cites Louise de Plana as an exemplar of beauty and grace. Antoinette often thinks of her mother, but knows nothing of her mother's condition. No one reports to Antoinette about her mother's well being: Christophine has left the family to live with her son, Aunt Cora has moved to England for a year, and Mr. Mason has begun traveling extensively abroad. As a resident of the convent, Antoinette adapts to the monotonous daily routine of meals, lessons, and prayer.

About every eighteen months, Mr. Mason visits Antoinette, bearing lavish gifts of clothes and jewelry. When she is seventeen, he announces on his visit that she will leave the convent to live with him and present herself to society. After this visit, Antoinette has a second dream about a forest, although this time she follows the faceless man in her dream rather than run from him. This man leads her into a garden and up some steps, as she resists and cries. When Antoinette wakes from the dream, she is shivering with fear and tells a concerned nun that she dreamed of hell. The kind nun gives her hot chocolate. As Antoinette drinks, she thinks of her mother's funeral, which occurred over a year ago; only she, Mr. Mason, and Christophine attended. Antoinette's thoughts of her mother merge with fragments of her nightmare.

Analysis

The sudden opening of the narrative, six weeks after the night of the fire, suggests that Antoinette has been in a timeless, empty delirium. The narrative becomes increasingly fragmented as the story progresses, suggesting Antoinette's inability to follow an orderly, linear, "western" notion of timekeeping. Time seems to pass more organically for Antoinette. Raised by the ageless naturalist, Christophine, Antoinette is attuned to the seasons, with little grasp on concrete realities of time and place. Rather, Antoinette's consciousness travels freely and openly from one associative thought to the next, integrating scents and sounds.

Aunt Cora's care of Antoinette is a rare instance of family nurturing, and one of the few times Antoinette receives maternal care from anyone other than her nurse, Christophine. This maternal care ends, however, when Aunt Cora sends Antoinette away to school. Seemingly rejected on all sides, Antoinette enters the convent reluctantly, but finds, within its cold, thick walls, a refuge from the harsh world outside. When Antoinette enters the convent crying, a nun washes her face, an act symbolizing ritual purification. In this world of women, the forces of patriarchy and racial hatred cannot harm Antoinette. Numbed by the routines of her "safe" Christian environment, she retreats into herself and forgets her past, rarely thinking of her mother or Coulibri. Antoinette appears to have found her ultimate peace in her family of "mothers," or nuns.

Just as Antoinette is settling into this lifestyle, the world of male negotiation disrupts her peace. Mr. Mason attempts to cajole his stepdaughter with gifts of clothing and jewelry, using money to manipulate her into his marriage scheme. He sees Antoinette primarily as an opportunity to do business with other white gentlemen. Always attuned to the impending evil that surrounds her, Antoinette has the forest dream again, although this time it is more elaborate—as if to suggest that her danger is more imminent.

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Context

by buckindisguise, March 01, 2014

'Dominica' is a Leeward Island of the Caribbean, not Windward.

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